Read a long interview with Pat McGrath, Billy’s caretaker during the last years of his life, on the deep and perilous complexities of living with Billy Ruane, at thePhoenix.com/billyruane.
CURTIS CASELLA | TAANG! RECORDS: Billy was a shot in the arm to this world. If he couldn’t make it to Thanksgiving dinner, he would always send someone else to my table (usually someone I didn’t know, but it was a shadow of him who would arrive). My fondest memory of Billy was when we went to Liza Minnelli and did the tango with her at the Blue Sands as we drank Jack Daniels out of her shoe.
On many nights at the Kung Fu restaurant — no, that wasn't its real name, it was called Ocean Wealth in Chinatown — he had dinner and proceeded not to use chopsticks, forks, or any other utensils. When the staff escorted him to the door, he pointed out to them that this was finger food and it is meant to be eaten with your fingers. We kept going back there for years, but Billy would be served with chopsticks — as well as a fork and knife — from then on.
One time, at a Mission of Burma show in the early ’80s, he destroyed a perfectly good light-brown suit with elbow patches. It was a beautiful suit, but Burma was outstanding and Billy mopped the floor with his body, and completely destroyed the suit jacket and split his pants due to a split from an aerial leap.
Weeks later he showed at a Cramps show with an identical suit — and that suit was destroyed as well, due to his physical outbursts. He must’ve bought those suits in bulk, because I swear I later saw him riding that scooter of his across the Mass Ave bridge with a third suit, identical to the previous two.
ROGER MILLER | MISSION OF BURMA: To watch Billy conduct Glenn Branca’s Symphony No. 6 at Sanders Theater in Harvard Square, while Branca also was conducting it on stage, was a truly transcendental vision. Billy stood on a railing, conducting his heart out (doing a tremendous job, I might add), and Branca would "feel" something going on behind his back. Branca turned (while the Symphony blazed on) and Billy would duck behind the railing (luckily for me, only a few feet from my chair). Branca would then return to conducting, and shortly afterward, so would Billy. The music was always made greater through Billy’s interaction.
My first direct contact with Billy happened in 1980 or ’81. My girlfriend and I were at a South End/Thayer Street–area rock show/party on some abandoned seventh floor. The vibe was getting nasty. The townies didn’t appreciate the “noise music” being created by the bands, and one guy was so incensed that he took a microphone and threw it out the window. Adrenalin was pulsing, and we knew it was time to get out of there. We managed to make it down the seven-flight stairway, and once outside were relieved to be safe. I bent over to tie my shoe, when suddenly somebody jumped on my back. As mentioned, adrenalin was coursing through veins, and I reached back with both arms, grabbed whoever it was, and hurled him over my head. And now, directly in front of me, was a guy on his back, both arms waving wildly in the air like some Kafka character, laughing maniacally! It was, of course, Billy Ruane. I felt a lot closer to him after that.